Bugs, flow­ers and ro­dents on your plate

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ERIK NILS­SON in Kun­ming

Silk­worm chrysalises. Pump­kin blos­soms. Bam­boo rats. Bon ap­petit! Yunnan’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Kun­ming, is a place where hon­ey­bee pu­pae, lo­custs, cater­pil­lars, drag­on­flies and bam­boo worms are deep-fried. Alive. The cook­ing method adds crispi­ness to al­ready-crunchy ex­oskele­tons.

(Din­ers will dis­cover sour ants live up to their name­sake.)

Things that wrig­gle, squirm and flut­ter are de­prived of food for a few­days be­fore be­com­ing meals them­selves.

That’s to purge their di­ges­tive tracts be­fore they’re piled onto plates and snapped up with chop­sticks.

The tra­di­tion of en­list­ing in­sects for menus started among lo­cal eth­nic groups over two mil­len­nia ago.

For an­cient hunter-gath­erer com­mu­ni­ties, creepy-crawlies pro­vided a food­stuff so­lu­tion that was ly­ing around— or, per­haps more ac­cu­rately, writhing, scut­tling and fly­ing about.

For­ag­ing con­tin­ues as a legacy, rather than a caloric ne­ces­sity, and many res­i­dents earn liv­ings net­ting wild bugs bound for table­tops.

They sell their small swarms to mar­kets and restau­rants.

The flow­ers com­monly eaten in the city, how­ever, come from farms.

Ja­panese-ba­nana blos­soms are flicked into stir-fries. Chrysan­the­mum pe­tals speckle cold wal­nuts and diced cu­cum­ber. Roses are mashed into a sweet paste that’s sheathed by flaky pas­try crusts.

Bam­boo rats are rel­a­tively rare among the lo­cal-in­gre­di­ents list that many out­siders deem “ex­otic”. But they are lurk­ing in cer­tain kitchens through­out the city.

That said, Kun­ming of­fers plenty of fare for the less— you could say— ad­ven­tur­ous.

It’s known for its var­ied gas­tro­nomic legacy, as the cap­i­tal of China’s most eth­ni­cally di­verse prov­ince.

Ghost chicken ( guiji), for in­stance, takes its name from the his­tory of eth­nic Jinpo an­ces­tral wor­ship. Cold, boiled chick­ens were easy to schlep to shrines — and are de­li­cious when driz­zled with lime, chilies, gar­lic, mint and basil.

In­deed, spicy, sour and com­plex per­sist as the strong­est im­pulses of most dishes in Kun­ming’s cor­nu­copia of dis­tinct cuisines.

Wan­doufu’s in­gre­di­ents list is it­self a mouth­ful— pea-meal chunks, car­rot strips, chopped ci­lantro, se­same seeds, sweet soy sauce, pear vine­gar, gin­ger wa­ter, gar­lic wa­ter, brown sugar, oil chilies and fried peanut pow­der.

Yunnan roast duck is the less-cel­e­brated cousin of the glob­ally ac­claimed Pek­ing recipe — but, some would ar­gue, equally de­lec­ta­ble.

Its sta­tus is plau­si­bly less a ques­tion of taste than a quirk of ge­og­ra­phy, since the dish hails from out­side of the na­tional cap­i­tal.

(It has been in­scribed on the pro­vin­cial-level in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural-her­itage list and is await­ing an an­swer on a State-level ap­pli­ca­tion.)

That said, any vis­i­tor will dis­cover Kun­ming’s cui­sine fla­vors a cul­ture that stays with you— wher­ever you come from and wher­ever you’re go­ing.

PHO­TOS BY ERIK NILS­SON / CHINA DAILY

Deep-fried bam­boo worms, lo­custs and flow­ers are com­mon dishes in Yunnan.

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